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Congressional Republicans seek legal strategy to restore Alaska drilling options

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published January 6, 2017

WASHINGTON — Alaska's congressional delegation is aiming to find whatever options are available to roll back President Barack Obama's restrictions on Arctic drilling — onshore and off.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan introduced legislation Thursday that would allow energy production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And the delegation — and congressional leadership — were consulting with attorneys to decide the best legal options to repeal Obama's designations that bar drilling in many areas offshore of Alaska.

Murkowski and Sullivan introduced a bill, S. 49, that would allow development of up to 2,000 acres of the 1.5 million-acre "1002 Area" of ANWR. The 1002 area, on the refuge's coastal plain, was set aside by Congress as available for drilling, but only after study and later approval of Congress. That congressional approval — and a presidential sign-off — has proved elusive for three decades.

Sullivan and Murkowski argue that a majority of Alaskans support drilling in ANWR.

"Time and again, our pleas have been denied. This is shameful," Sullivan said Thursday night.

They note too that it will still take as much as 10 years of development before the first 1002 oil would enter the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. The ANWR area where the lawmakers hope to allow drilling is relatively near the pipeline.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker offered his support for the bill and said that the state would do whatever possible "to provide the infrastructure needed to responsibly access the 1002 section of ANWR." He argued that the area could be developed within a small footprint, and said the project would "bring much needed revenue to our state coffers."

The focus of Alaska's lawmakers is not simply allowing drilling in new areas onshore. They also hope to overturn late-term actions Obama has taken to close off Arctic and near-Arctic federal waters.

Young's office is readying new legislation now that he will introduce in the coming weeks, said spokesman Matt Shuckerow. Questions and policy disputes remain regarding whether and how Republicans can overturn Obama's December moves to block offshore drilling in Arctic and Bering Strait waters and designate a wide-ranging "climate resilience area." 

House Speaker Paul Ryan said on "The Hugh Hewitt Show" this week that the Republican Party is examining whether President-elect Donald Trump can himself undo the move.

"That was not permanent. We're very clear about that. So that's the kind of analysis – what can he do when he takes his hand off the Bible and becomes president? What can a new Cabinet secretary do? And then what is it that Congress needs to do? And then what order will we do that in? That is exactly the analysis that we're going through right now," Ryan said.

Murkowski and Sullivan again submitted legislation this week too to require congressional approval of future national monuments and set additional requirements for declaring marine monuments, as Obama has done elsewhere in the United States.

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